Category Archives: Law

KICKING OFF for the Hundred Families Charity (Guest blog by Len Hodkin)

The 2nd floor at the Central Criminal Court will forever have a special place in my heart and for those of you who know me, no, I am not referring to the café. It is home to a unique group of people, who in my opinion, are more important, more significant than any Judge, prosecutor or defence counsel who attends the Old Bailey. You will have all seen them. They are there every day and they go about their business quietly and largely unnoticed but the court could not operate without them.

I refer to Linda Harlow and her amazing team of volunteers from the Witness Service. These unsung heroes support not only the victim’s families but prosecution and defence witnesses alike in addition to children and vulnerable witnesses.

 I had heard of the Witness Service and had some dealings with them across the various Courts I had attended across London but was largely ignorant as to what they actually did. I thought it was simply a case of escorting a witness to and from the Court to give evidence. How wrong I was.

 In 2012 my family and I spent four and a half weeks at the Old Bailey for trial of the woman who killed my mum Sally. It is not an experience I would ever wish to repeat yet strangely enough, I do look back upon those four and a half weeks with immense fondness. I witnessed first hand the volunteers from the Witness Service at work. I saw them share the burden of victims and witnesses grief and trauma. I saw them offer comfort and support to those in their darkest hour. A service all delivered with a smile and an unwavering passion for what they do. A service very much undervalued and overlooked by many but most importantly a service which is free. A Safe Haven.

 It was a privilege to see these amazing folk at work. My family and I cannot thank them enough for how we were treated and looked after and we are no different to the hundreds of families, witnesses and children who come through the doors at the Old Bailey each year.

 Each year since my mum’s death we have held a memorial football match at Welling United Football Club. Read media coverage of last year’s event HERE) To date we have raised over 35k for charitable causes. In 2013 we donated a substantial amount to the Witness Service along with the family of Elouise Littlewood to help renovate the witness rooms at the Old Bailey. Now the waiting area and rooms are almost unrecognisable to those that were there in 2012. 

   

  
  

 

However, the job is not quite finished…

 This years Charity game will be held at Welling United on 7 May with a 3pm kick off. We are raising money for the Witness Service at the Old Bailey and a Charity called Hundred Families of which I am a Trustee.

 Hundred families: http://www.hundredfamilies.org/

 Hundred Families is a small charity that receives no Government funding. We provide practical support, information, and advocacy services throughout Britain for families who have lost loved ones as a result of killings by people with mental illness. We work with the Criminal Justice System and the Health Service to secure meaningful improvements for victims’ families and the way in which they are treated. We provide research, training and evidence based resources to mental health professionals and policy makers to try and prevent such killings from happening in future. This year we produced a Practical Guide for families after mental health homicide. This guide is available to download free from our website or free in hard copy upon request.

 If anyone would like to come along to the Football match on Saturday 7 May 2016 please feel free. Everyone is welcome and it is a good family day out. There is also a raffle held after the game. If anyone would like to advertise in the programme, buy raffle tickets or simply make a donation please contact me at len@hundredfamilies.org or you can donate by text. For example to buy 5 raffle tickets just text HUND43 £5 to 70070just text HUND43 £5 to 70070 

To donate to the Witness Service or ensure your donation is made available specifically for the benefit of witnesses and bereaved families at the Central Criminal Court please

• make a cheque payable to Citizens Advice and send it to:

Citizens Advice Witness Service, Central Criminal Court,  Old Bailey ,  London EC4M 7EH

Send the cheque with a covering letter stating you wish the donation to be allocated specifically for use by the Witness Service at the Central criminal Court, the Old Bailey and the funds will then be allocated for their use only.

Finally, next time you are at the Old Bailey and you find yourself on the 2nd floor about to go into the café spare a thought for the amazing unsung heroes right next door.
Len Hodkin  Len Hodkin is a solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors, and Trustee for Hundred Families Charity.

In Memory of Sally Hodkin

Sally Hodkin worked as the accounts manager for a solicitors practice in Blackheath. She was wife to Paul Hodkin for 38 years, Mum to two sons Len and Ian, and a loving grandmother.

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Hatton Garden Burglary Sentence

Six defendants were yesterday sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court for offences arising from the “Hatton Garden Raid”.

The majority were sentenced to six years imprisonment for Conspiracy to Commit Burglary.

 In my capacity as current President of the London Criminal Courts Sentencing Association I was invited on the LBC Nick Ferrari show to explain how those sentences may have arisen. I make it clear I was not defending any of the defendants, and my knowledge of the case and the sentence is based purely on the press reporting.

Firstly, although described in some reports as “the Hatton Garden robbery”, the offence committed was not a robbery (which in simple terms is theft accompanied by violence or threat of violence) which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The raid here was a burglary, ie entering premises as trespassers, and stealing property. In fact, the defendants were charged with conspiracy to burgle , in other words agreeing to take part in the burglary. This suggests equal culpability for each conspirator, regardless of their actual role within the operation. The maximum sentence and sentencing range for conspiring to commit an offence is the same as for committing the actual offence, in other words there is no advantage in sentencing terms to pleading guilty to a conspiracy rather than the burglary.

Some have commented on the apparent leniency of the sentences, but in my opinion the Sentencing Judge got the sentence exactly right.

If the offence were aggravated burglary, eg if violence had been used, the maximum sentence would have been life imprisonment. This was not an aggravated burglary.

If the offence were a domestic burglary (it was not) the maximum sentence would have been 14 years, the law quite properly recognising the invasion of someone’s home is more reprehensible than commercial premises. 

The maximum penalty for “non-domestic” burglary, as in this case, is ten years.

And that is pretty much what the defendants received, allowing for a reduction for sentence of about a third for pleading guilty. (Credit for guilty pleas to avoid unnecessary trials apply in any case for any offence, and the maximum “discount” of up to a third applies for pleas at the early stages of a case, not delayed until the start of trial)

In conclusion, a sentence of seven years is understandable and justifiable within the framework of the current sentencing structure. The Judge would have taken into account any aggravating features (in particular the high value) and any mitigating circumstances (including age or infirmity), but the exceptional circumstances and particularly the high value of goods taken in this case took it outside the Sentencing Guidelines for burglary.

Postscript 

Although I had not seen them when interviewed on the radio, the Judges sentencing remarks were published Here.

It seems that most of the media reporting the sentence chose to ignore this! 

Highbury Court Advice Centre-One Year On!

A Local court-based advice and support service celebrated its first year at Highbury Magistrates Court this month.
North London advice and support service, Community Advice based at Highbury Magistrates Court has been providing practical help and access to long term support to those who attend court.

  
Based inside the court, the service in its first year has helped over 600 people from Islington, Haringey, Camden and Enfield. It has assisted court users with accessing long-term support services such as alcohol treatment, housing, mental health services or providing immediate help with practical issues such as outstanding fines and benefit claims.

The service is aimed especially at those who are not eligible for probation support due to the level of their offences such as theft, vandalism, drunk and disorderly conduct, but appear in court again and again absorbing a considerable amount of the criminal justice system’s resources.

A paid coordinator and a team of volunteers at the service help identify and tackle the underlying problems that contribute to people’s offending such as housing needs, debt issues, and drug and alcohol misuse.

The service has made hundreds of referrals into wider community services ensuring those who come to court can continue to receive the support they need once they leave the building. In its first year, the clients attended three quarters of all the referrals made for them and two-thirds reported their issues had been resolved six months on.

Set up by the Centre for Justice Innovation, the service is supported by local magistrates and court service and is delivered by Islington Citizens Advice. For more info, check out this short film!

Joanne Thomas, Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation said: “Community Advice is an invaluable resource as it is addressing significant unmet needs of people who are coming to court. There are early, positive signs that it is helping people who would have had no other recourse to resolve their issues.” (See also this blog by Joanne)

Notes

• The Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK justice research and development charity. It works to build a justice system that holds people accountable, that is fair and feels fair, and which seeks to address the problems of those people who come into contact with it. It is an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation, based in New York.

• A reception event to mark the anniversary was held on March 9th in Islington Town Hall. My contribution:-

Anyone practicing in criminal law is aware that the vast majority of defendants have any one (or more) of a number of complex issues or difficult challenges , which often underpin or contribute to their offending, but which the Criminal Justice System does not address. These issues can include mental health issues, drug addiction, homelessness, welfare benefit issues, domestic violence, exploitation, pressure by gang members, unemployment, depression, and more. 

In some cases limited help provided comes from the probation service, but gone are the days when there was a probation “service” whose role was to “befriend the prisoner” and instead we have a fragmented, part-privatised, underfunded system whose main purpose is to punish, and, where there is a subsidiary component of help, it comes with sanctions for “non-compliance”. 

Leaving the offender to seek their own help, we have also seen a steady diminution of help and advice services , both Centrally and by Local Authorities, and a particularly brutal reduction in services since LASPO.

Solicitors cannot plug this gap-as a result of year on year Legal Aid cuts we barely have time to take meaningful instructions on cases to present a proper defence for a desirory fixed fee within an adverserial system. In earlier years a High Street Practice would offer a holistic service, with solicitors advising on employment law, benefits advice etc, now that rearely exists.

About 10 years ago I began mentoring ex-offenders, which I continue to do, and I have been amazed at the paucity of mentoring available compared to the potential demand, and the willingness of people to give up their time. My mentoring campaign led, accidentally, into politics, and indeed into this Town Hall where I was an elected Councillor from 2006-2014.

I never managed to establish an Islington mentoring service, but I have at least now seen the birth of an Islington mentoring project, BRIDGING THE GAP ISLINGTON.

Mentoring, which is time-intensive, essentially is signposting or referring clients to the right experts who can provide help with specific issues. “If only”, I sometimes mused, “there was a service where the people needing help and the volunteers who can provide it could be gathered together in one place”. It was no more than a pipe-dream.

So now I turn to the Highbury Court Advice Service.  The service that shows me that dreams can come true!

I was aware there was some kind of pilot project in Plymouth, (my home City!)

I was aware of the excellent work of the Centre for Justice Innovation.

And I was very aware of Highbury Corner Magistrates , my Local Court.

But never would I have believed that somehow these threads would be drawn together to create this outstanding service.

The first time I saw it in action, I spotted somebody gliding across the waiting area, friendly, welcoming, introducing themselves to clients. Naturally I thought it was one of the infamous solicitor-touts that proliferate at Highbury Court, trying to poach clients from other solicitors (fighting for scraps at the beggars banquet)

You cannot imagine my delight when I realised that instead this was a volunteer from the Advice Service, offering help and advice. On subsequent visits I introduced myself to the team, and gradually met more of the volunteers. I referred my clients to them. I visited the CJI for a seminar. I blogged about the Service. I am, in short, unambiguously a fan.

I tell everybody I can about this Service, and was glad to see Mr Gove visited. I hope he was impressed.

So well done, and thank you to the visionaries who developed the concept, the volunteers who deliver and all those who support it.

And I ask of you all one thing, support this scheme, and shout about this service from the roof-tops.

We need to ensure that it survives, and that it is rolled out across London and hopefully Nationally.

I look forward to the 10 year anniversary celebration! 

  

(A version of this speech appears on the CJI website here)

A Re-Appraisal of the Law on “Joint Enterprise” (guest blog by Greg Stewart)

This blog by Greg Stewart, criminal appeal specialist and head of GT Stewart solicitors, assesses the new Joint Enterprise landscape following the long-awaited Supreme Court Judgment in R v JOGEE

Introduction

Criminal lawyers have gone from an aridly dry January (1) to fabulous, celebratory wet February – even for such a well soaked profession. How often does our highest court declare that we have all been getting the law seriously wrong for over 30 years?! Even less often I would say than Government Ministers suddenly reverse their views on whistle blowers and protests from criminal defence lawyers. (2)

Of course the Supreme Court have sought to make it clear that the clarification made to the common law by R v Jogee and Rudduck v The Queen [2016] UKSC 8 & 7 is not “unprecedented”– it’s just that you, me, the bar including umpteen queen’s counsel, and the senior judiciary had been looking at the wrong precedents for more than three decades, or more accurately, overlooking the right ones. 

Indeed, a cynical jurist may just smell a political strain that is not unrelated to what is happening in other areas of criminal justice – we have a Justice “Ministry” (with all the evangelical zeal that implies)  that now lambasts it’s own civil servants for the failings of the prison system, allows the restocking of prison libraries and generally enlisting the values of the New Testament in place of the Old. In doing so there is belated recognition that over those 30 years the prison population has doubled. The proportion of young people incarcerated in this Country, despite recent reversals, remains scandalously high.

This judgment will go a long way to stopping the interminable waste of young people – disproportionately black – rotting in detention centres and prisons for year after year well beyond condign punishment or meaningful rehabilitation.

Joint Enterprise Law- a pre-Jogee history

For those of you who have not had a chance to study the judgement, the Supreme Court reviewed the evolution of the common law principles of joint enterprise (or common purpose) from the 19th century. It noted about then there was an important clarification away from the belief that it was sufficient that the conduct of the principal was a probable consequence of the common purpose, it had to be part of the common purpose. This identified the fundamental distinction: whilst a probable consequence was always going to be an important consideration for a jury when deciding what the common purpose of the defendants was, it was not sufficient on its own to fix criminal liability. The judgment highlights the important (but until now overlooked) line of authority from:-

R v Collison (1831) 4 Car & P 565 – an accomplice of an apple thief who attacked the landowner’s watchman with a bludgeon would only be guilty if that was part of the common purpose should resistance be encountered; 

R v Skeet (1866) 4 F & F 931 – poachers routinely carry weapons and it is necessary to find a common design or intention, beyond poaching, to kill or cause grievous bodily harm for homicide; 

R v Spraggett [1960] Crim LR 840 – a burglar’s conviction for the killing by his co-accomplice was not safe where the trial judge wrongly directed that a common intention to commit a burglary was the same as a common intention to commit violence;

 R V Reid [1976] 62 Cr App R 109 – the appellant was correctly convicted of manslaughter – not murder – when he attended the home of an army colonel in the early hours of the morning with others who were carrying weapons including firearms as the common purpose was clearly to cause harm even though he did not intend death or grievous bodily harm (though he might have been said to foresee it).

 However, in Chang Wing-Siu [1985] AC 168 the Privy Council extended the doctrine beyond this – three appellants had gone to the flat of a prostitute to rob her husband carrying knives which were in fact used to slash her and kill him. They complained about a direction at trial that they would be guilty if they contemplated a knife might be used with intent to commit serious bodily harm. They said the level of contemplation had to be more than 50%. The PC rightly rejected that argument but then went on to create a new form of “parasitic accessory liability” where “it turns on contemplation or, putting the same idea in other words, authorization, which may be express but is more usually implied. It meets the case of a crime foreseen as a possible incident of the common unlawful enterprise. The criminal liability lies in participating in the venture with that foresight”.

 This novel development was confirmed by the House of Lords in R v Powell & English [1999] 1 AC 1 where Lord Hutton recognised the logical anomaly it created in that the principal who merely foresaw a possibility would not meet the mens rea of murder but the person who had not actually killed would. However, there were strong policy reasons in the area of criminal conduct for holding that to be the case. Lord Steyn agreed whilst Lord Mustill also did with more unease. In English’s case his appeal was successful as the knife produced by his co-accused was “fundamentally different” from the wooden post he had used in the joint attack on the police officer.

The Jogee Judgment

The Supreme Court acknowledged that the courts could make the doctrine more severe but only with caution especially for a secondary party. Five reasons swayed them: (1) they had the benefit of a much fuller analysis of important case law; (2) the common law is not working well in practice: (3) it is an important doctrine that has taken a wrong turn; (4) foresight is no more than evidence of intent and (5) it is not right that the liability of a secondary party is set lower than the principal. [paras 80-84]. From now on what matters is whether the accessory encouraged or assisted the crime committed by the principal. “Fundamental departure” is no longer a useful part of the doctrine but merely a consideration of what was foreseeable when weighing up evidential considerations.

Of course, the Supreme Court reminded us that a change in the law does not provide an automatic ground of appeal. And even where it can be argued that the doctrine was misapplied the Court of Appeal will only grant leave to appeal out of time if the applicant can demonstrate a “substantial injustice”. However, given the disparity between a determinate sentence for manslaughter and the mandatory sentence for murder that should not be an insurmountable obstacle – though it may result in a re-trial rather than an acquittal.          

 What stopped this injustice in the end was the relentless pushing of the lawyers. My client, 16 years old, of good character and 200 yards from the stabbing was refused a certified question by the Court of Appeal three years ago and after 18 months of waiting also denied admissibility by the European Court, so hats off to those who got there. But it would not have happened but for the irresistible weight of a liberal consensus that this was wrong. That consensus had built over the past 5 years thanks to interests groups. These were mainly the parents of young people serving life sentences. They found support from campaigners concerned with youth justice (JENGA and JFK being the most prominent) but it included many journalists (one being Melanie McFadyean at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) and the media (Fran Robertson – who made Guilty by Association). Whilst there has been an important Law Commission report in 2007, it would have gathered dust, like most, but for the campaigning. That led to parliamentary engagement. In 2011 a Parliamentary Justice Committee started to take evidence from a wide spectrum of those involved including the victims’ families – and it was often the victims (or near victims) in the witness box and the “winning” group in the dock. A consensus grew that joint enterprise as applied to the accessories to a crime and especially murder, was a lottery which had to stop. (3) The lottery had many outlets. It often started with a wide prosecutorial discretion: what an individual lawyer considered foreseeable? Of course across the country different cultures developed and these would determine who got a ticket for this lottery or who got offered a public order charge or was not prosecuted at all. Once in court it depended on the discretion of the lawyers on both sides to advise defendants and victims to accept pleas or proceed with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately the judge was then left to tip toe through labyrinthine jury directions. Finally the burden on juries was huge – as was the consequences for those in the dock. Ultimately, it took our most senior lawyers to admit we had been getting it wrong (or had “taken a wrong turn”as they delicately put it)  In fact, it had been a devastating lurch to the right in the criminal law. It’s always political.

Who would have foreseen all this during the depressing days of January?!

Blog by Greg Stewart of GT Stewart, February 2016   

  
Editor’s Notes

1 Civil Rights Editor endured dry January to raise money for cancer relief and can be sponsored here!

2 The celebrations by criminal legal aid lawyers throughout February arose from this statement by Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, over-turning the disastrous, unfair contract tendering scheme introduced by his appallingly inept and hated predecessor Chris Grayling. Leading  law firm GT Stewart were one of the firms  taking legal action against the MoJ over the botched procurement, and welcomed the climbdown.

3 There were numerous calls for reform by lawyers for years (see eg this recent blog by Ronnie Manek)

Duty Solicitors Unite-don’t break the link! Guest Blog by Bev Hockley

Introduction by Greg Foxsmith

Criminal Legal Aid Lawyers of certain experience can apply to become duty solicitors. 

Duty Solicitors can represent people needing legal advice in criminal courts who have not instructed their own solicitors, and do so in rotation via a published rota administered via the Legal Aid Authority. 

The scheme was devised to provide solicitors for clients, not clients for solicitors, but in recent years the rotas became overloaded with providers, many of whom were not actually representing clients, but allowing their slots to be covered by others (sometimes for remuneration). These non-attendees have become known as “ghosts.”

The MoJ and LAA will soon be considering how to allocate duty “slots” when the new rotas are published, and how to tackle ghosts. 

In this blog freelance solicitor Bev Hockley says what she thinks  about long -standing proposals by the  “Big Firms Group*”   to “break the link”  between duty solicitors and the slots allocated to them on the duty rotas. (This proposal would mean that duty slots are allocated not to solicitors, but in blocks to firms.) The following is her answer:-

Ghosts’ have flourished in plain sight as named Duty Solicitors on rotas for years. 

 ‘Breaking the link’ by replacing Duty Solicitors slots in firms names will only serve to perpetuate this problem by providing ‘Ghosts’ with additional protection from detection.

 We have successfully challenged the implementation of Contracting Duty Solicitor work by asserting it would drive down the quality of fundamental front line services at the police station and magistrates court.

 ‘Breaking the link’ would rapidly evaporate this achievement and facilitate every ambition the Contracting proposals set out to accomplish. 

 The prestige of PIN numbers would become meaningless. 

 Every firm would have the tempting opportunity to replace highly experienced DS, employees and consultants alike, with inexperienced bargain-basement representation.

 The provision of quality services can only be preserved by maintaining the link between named and appointed DS on rotas.

 For those representing the profession in current crucial post Contract negotiations, the last bastion of guardianship must be to protect this link with the same tenacity which defeated the ill-fated Contracting proposals. 

Postscript

Keeping the link is important to all duty solicitors, not just freelancers! Solicitors in London who want to contribute to the debate should consider joining the LCCSA, a representative body with a democratically elected committee. In addition, Freelancers may want to attend a meeting for Freelance Solicitors at the Queens Head in Kings Cross on Monday 15th February at 6pm, or contact Theresa Hendrickx by texting  07949243949 for more information on the Freelancers Association mailing list. 

Bev Hockley, 12/02/2016

Bev Hockey trained at Hickman and Rose and has represented clients both as an employee and consultant at the police station and magistrate’s court for nearly 20 years. Bev is currently a consultant with Edward Fail Bradshaw and Waterson

Don’t break the chain



* The Big Firms Group” (or BFG) is an unelected body set up to represent the interests of “big firms” with a Criminal Legal Aid contract. There has been a doubt for some time as to whether they are a unified body and who exactly they speak for. It may only be a small number of firms with other firms historically under the BFG umbrella not wholly in support of recent positions. However, what is clear is that spokespeople for the BFG lobbied the MoJ in support of consolidation (and were supporters of the disastrous “two-tier” contracting) and appear to still be recognised as a “representative body” by the MoJ, despite apparently having no clear mandate or constitution. 

Community Advice Offer extended to More Courts

Guest blog by Joanne Thomas  (see author note below)

Introduction: “People in Court sometimes need more advice than just legal advice

Many of the people who come through magistrates’ court commit low-level offences and go on to commit them again and again without the underlying causes being tackled. Typically, the seriousness of offences means they receive fines or conditional discharges and therefore no support from statutory agencies. But very often they end up returning to court – 40% of fines go unpaid and a third of people receiving a conditional discharge reoffend within a year.

The South West model

In South West England, action is taken to stop this revolving door via CASS (http://cassplus.org/). CASS is a service that has been running for almost ten years and provides support to people coming to court in Plymouth, Truro and Bodmin. It is open to anyone – defendants, but also victims, witnesses and family members. There are very few limits on the kind of help that the service will provide. While there are some mainstays – namely drug and alcohol treatment referrals, information about community mental health care, practical support with debts or benefits – CASS has helped clients across with a huge range of issues. See our recent evaluation of this service here

The Community Advice Service at Highbury

Inspired by this work, we at the Centre for Justice Innovation worked with partners from the North London Local Justice Area over 18 months to see whether we could set up something similar at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. The result is the Community Advice service, which has been delivered by RCJ Advice Bureau (http://www.rcjadvice.org.uk/) from the court since January 2015. Attending court can be confusing and intimidating, so the service works to identify those in need of immediate help, engaging the majority through proactive targeting in court rooms and public areas, as well as receiving referrals from solicitors, court staff and probation. The people seen present with a range of difficulties, with the most common being housing, benefits and debt, and mental health.  

Community Advice is currently delivered by a paid coordinator and team of CAB-trained volunteers. It provides immediate help and advice with practical issues such as benefit claims, debt and housing, as well as offering emotional support. It also helps people find out about and access long-term support services in the community such as alcohol treatment, mental health services and supported housing.

But most importantly of all, the service needs to know if it is making a difference to those using it. The team follows up with everyone who agrees to this for up to six months to check on their progress and see if they need any more support. The outcomes being reported are very positive, with 60% of people contacted at six months saying their issues have been resolved. Additionally, at two weeks, a third reported their issues were either resolved or better, rising to almost two thirds two months after using the service. A third of people using the service had visited the referrals that had been made by the service after two weeks, and this increased to 80% by two months. The majority of people at all stages of follow-up reported a high levels of helpfulness from the services to which they had been referred.  


Could More be Done?

With such positive outcomes, the question remains as to why this kind of service is not more prevalent. Pulling together the right partners and identifying funding can be challenging, but tackling the underlying problems that lead people to commit crime not only helps the individual but can also help the criminal justice system to meet its aims as well as being better for society overall. 

Conclusion

We remain keen to identify and work with other courts to recognise the benefits of services such as this and where appropriate to develop similar initiatives that respond to the needs of the people who continue to come through their courts time and again. 

The author

Joanne Thomas is Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation, a research and development charity which works towards a British justice system that reduces crime and in which all of our people can place their trust.

  
 

Community Advice at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court

Community Advice offered in Court

A new court-based Advice Service at Highbury Court is most welcome!

 See also this blog by Joanne Thomas

The Magistrates Court is not somewhere people associate with receiving advice, other than the occasional finger-wagging lecture from a Justice of the Peace, usually warning of the consequences of not complying with their instructions. Yet the vast majority of people who pass through their doors are clearly in need of advice and help in tackling the kinds of problem that brought them to Court in the first place.

Homelessness, mental health, unemployment, poverty, debt, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, overcrowded accomodation, domestic violence, the Courts often see some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Of course the Probation service can sometimes help, but are suffering from funding restraints as well as outsourcing, and  Community Orders are increasingly targetted at punishment rather than rehabilitaion.

Often solicitors defending at these Courts try to plug the gap in the lack of advice available, but apart from constraints on time and money have to be careful not to blur the professional boundary between lawyer and client, as well as acknowledging that we are not trained counsellors or social workers, lacking the resources and knowledge to advice on the areas that need addressing outside the immediacy of legal representation. Often lawyers do not even know where to direct clients who need help in other areas.

All this has changed with this exciting project at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court.From January of this year, the project has been offering help and advice from a small room accessed from the same waiting area as the Courtrooms on the first floor. And as there is plenty of waiting at Court, there is time for the people who desperately need help and advice to talk about their problems and receive practical help and guidance.

Last week I popped in to see how they were getting on. I was impressed by the set-up and those running it, but more so by the verifiable results they could demonstrate, and the numerous cases they could describe showing practical examples of problem-solving for clients.

The community Advice is run by Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau incorporating Islington Citizens Advice. It follows a longer running pilot project in Plymouth. Since opening they have helped hundreds of court users with issues such as homelessness, debts, housing, family, mental health, benefits, alcohol and drug related issues.

I met Jess, a volunteer (working there one day a week) and Ross, the co-ordinator for the project who told me:- 

We work with people who are using the court and their families to give advice and help them to find out about and access support services in the community. We also provide immediate help with practical issues and offer emotional support. We are independent of the judicial process. We operate independently from other agencies in the court. The service is delivered primarily by a team of 10 volunteers and one paid staff (co-ordinator) and focuses mainly on those who are not working with probation, though we are open to all” .

Ross provided numerous case studies. I attach an edited version of one below. 

I later spoke to Joanne Thomas from the Centre for Justice Innovation who proudly told me the Advice Service at Highbury was “doing an incedible job”. Joanne has previously written about the project here.

Conclusion

For too long the criminal justice system has been used to punish criminal acts, without addressing the causes of crime, even where the perpetrators are crying out for help. Judges, like lawyers, are not social workers, and have to uphold the law. But if we are to avoid the “revolving door” syndrome, and break the cycle of recidivism, then taking an opportunity to tackle root causes with practical help, is not only humane and just, it is likely to prove a cost-effective way to reduce crime 

Case Study

Paul (not his real name) was 35 years old and homeless when he attended court because of drug offences. He had a large number of previous convictions and his relationship had broken down. He was suffering severe financial hardship, receiving no income and owing money to a number of people on top of the court fines he had just received. He was also suffering from drug and alcohol dependence that was affecting his mental health. In addition, he had lost his birth certificate and wanted help to apply for a CSCS card.

Paul was empowered to make his own decisions about what to do, assisted in applying for jobseekers allowance, and referred him to a number of services for his mental health, drug and alcohol use and homelessness. He was also guided on applying for his CSCS card and birth certificate as well as helped to access support for his debts.

There were Follow up appointments. He is now in receipt of jobseekers allowance and is managing to pay his priority debt (his court fines) as well as sorting out his other debts. He has received his CSCS card and is looking for work in construction, and has received his birth certificate. He is also receiving counselling for his mental health.

Prison Books: Helping to Turn over a New leaf

The decision earlier this year by Justice Secretary Michael Gove to lift the ban on family and friends sending books to prisoners was welcome

Anybody who describes prison as a “holiday camp” has either never been to prison, or never been on holiday- the reality of contemporary incarceration is boredom from enforced idleness, interspersed with occasional violence (assaults are rife) but little support for rehabilitation programmes or tackling prevalent issues of mental health. Cuts to staffing levels have overlapped with a rapidly rising prison population. Recent reports by the Prison Inspectorate have been damming.

Books do not in themselves provide a panacea, but they are a good start. They provide education, help literacy and personal development, and broaden the mind.

The book ban introduced by Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling was a vindictive, unjustified act.

The purpose of prison is punishment and rehabilitation- the first is implicit in the removal of liberty by being locked up, the second currently not achieved by draconian policies that fail to tackle the root causes of offending behaviour. In Nelson Mandela’s moving autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, he writes of the value and importance of books to him through his long period of imprisonment. Everyone but Grayling could see the value of books within prison.

In March last year I joined a demonstration against the book ban outside Pentonville prison organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and supported by authors including the Poet Laureate. See a short video clip here.

The reversal came initially as a result of a successful Judicial Review brought by solicitor Samuel Genen and counsel (all acting pro-bono) -read more about that here. The High Court ruled the policy was unlawful. Gove then confirmed in July the complete relaxation of the unfair and arbitrary rules Grayling introduced. That is a victory- unlawful policies do not always lead to policy reversal -look at the vexed issue of prisoner voting.

Now we no longer have a book ban, and we now longer have Grayling despoiling the office of Lord Chancellor. So what of his successor?

Gove has said that “the most useful thing we can do is make sure prisoners are usefully employed, and improve literacy, numeracy and work skills”. Will he act or are these just “words”?

I would suggest the most useful thing Gove could do would be to reduce the prison population by crime prevention and successful rehabilitation, and reducing the numbers imprisoned for pointless short sentences for non-violent crime.  This in turn would save money, which could be redeployed to properly fund the Justice system. Government cuts to Legal aid have put our Justice system at risk. The spending cuts were ideological, deferring costs elsewhere in the system.

Grayling was a wrecker, who for what he hoped would gain him short term popularity damaged both the Criminal Justice system and an effective penal system.

Gove has a long way to go to fix these problems, but reversing the book ban was a good start.

Published on International Literacy Day, 08 september 2015

An earlier version of this article was published here in the Islington Tribune in July this year

Legal Workers Trade Union

Legal Workers’ Trade Union (guest blog by Arthur Kendrick)

Why is there a need for a legal workers union?

 Unity 

There are thousands of solicitors, barristers, legal executives, paralegals and legal administrative staff in the UK. We need one voice. Organisations like the CLSA and the LCCSA have done amazing work in fighting the cuts and organising the workforce, but fundamentally, we need one organisation that can speak for us all. We need the Legal Workers Trade Union.

 In the last week we have seen how our divided profession has allowed the government to press on with its agenda of crippling cuts to legal aid. Without a central body to stand for our common interests as legal aid practitioners, this slash and burn government will continue to divide and rule.

 Experience

 It took our profession hundreds of years to go on strike and we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons (not least which handbag to wear…), but it’s difficult to know how to minimise the collateral damage to our clients. The Legal Workers Trade Union, as a part of Unite the Union, will be able to draw on decades of experience that will help us maximise the impact of any action we take and make sure that impact is felt by those responsible.

 Working conditions

It has been only three years since LASPO, but more than thirty since Legal Aid rates have increased. Very few industries have put up with such a savage attack on pay and working conditions. With the next cut due in a matter of days, working conditions across the legal aid industry will continue to fall. We need someone in our corner.

The Legal Workers Trade Union is a movement for fair and sustainable working conditions for all employees on an equal basis across the legal sector. Too many vastly talented individuals are leaving legal aid work, and too many are fearful to enter. Still more are putting up with a gradual erosion of their working conditions, thinking there is no alternative. The LWTU will help provide independent, experienced assistance in any employer/employee negotiations and help protect your rights.

 Who can join?

 LWTU is not just for the legally qualified; our membership includes students, trainees, and pupil barristers, as well as interns and volunteers, personal assistants, legal administrative staff, paralegals, solicitors, barristers and judges.

 Why join?

 We are stronger together. Quite apart from the huge importance of a strong, central voice for the industry, workers stand to benefit in a variety of ways from union membership.

 Workers in unions tend to earn more, receive more training and have better job security. Membership of a union also gives you access to the professional assistance that can help you negotiate better employment terms, like longer paternity/maternity leave or holiday entitlement.

 Perhaps most importantly, as a member of the LWTU you will be part of the fight for fairness and equality across the industry. Even if you are lucky enough to work in a positive and progressive workplace, your membership will help empower the paralegal on less than minimum wage, the legal executive working an eighty-hour week, or the barrister earning £50 (and often much less) to spend their Saturday morning at the Magistrates’ Court.

 How to Join

 You can join Unite online at:

 https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/

 If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet us @Legal_TU, email us on legaltradeunion@gmail.com or take a look at our website https://legaltradeunion.wordpress.com/

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The Football Banning Order (guest blog by Amanda Jacks of FSF)

This blog is by Amanda Jacks of the  Football Supporters Federation

What do paedophiles, terrorists and football supporters have in common? 

 The State has the power to remove their passports and in the case of supporters, they can do so in two different ways: either by application on conviction of a football related offence or by a civil application made by a Police Chief Constable to a magistrates court. 

 In both cases the surrender comes under the terms and conditions of a Football Banning Order (FBO) and occur when either the supporters’ club or country play abroad. Ahead of last year’s World Cup, passports had to be handed over to police some ten days ahead of the tournament and, regardless of how far England progressed, would be kept until it was over. It’s been calculated that if your team are in a European competition and England are playing qualifiers or friendlies, you could be without your passport for 90 days in a year. Whether you’ve ever followed club or country, outside of these shores is immaterial, it’s a blanket condition. Ahead of the recent Ireland v England friendly played in Dublin, not only did those serving FBOs have to surrender their passports, they also had to report to their local police station the morning of the match – just so the police could be doubly sure they hadn’t managed to sneak out the country.

An FBO can impose severe restrictions on movement preventing you from being within a certain radius of a football stadium (upto 5 miles) or in some cases prevent you using the rail network. Given a court has to be satisfied that granting an application for an FBO will contribute towards the reduction of football related violence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that applications on conviction are only made if a supporter has been found guilty of violent disorder or affray but it’s our experience that the police/CPS will submit an application regardless of the offence with which the supporter has been charged and whether or not they’ve got a criminal record, let alone previous convictions for football related offences. In one of the more questionable cases we’ve been involved in, a supporter was charged with missile throwing after chucking his fancy dress trousers in the air. He had a clean record yet would have faced an FBO application had he been convicted but thanks to vigorous efforts by his solicitor the charge was dropped.

 When it comes to civil applications, the Police may present evidence to the Court upto ten years old in the hope that the court will be persuaded that granting the application will prevent individuals from causing or contributing to disorder. The supporters may not necessarily have a criminal conviction. I’ve attended court on several occasions to observe proceedings and the strength of the evidence varies. In some cases, the police are able to present strong cases, including CCTV footage of fans being involved or in close proximity to disorder but in just as many cases, the applications are based on little more than association with other ‘risk’ fans and ejections from stadiums for breaking ground regulations. In fact, some of the applications beg the question why individuals haven’t been arrested and charged with a criminal offence.

When supporters are served with a civil application approach us for advice, the one thing they all have in common is the account they give when the police turn up at their doorstep with legal papers. I’ve been told time and time again that the police tell fans not to bother taking legal advice, it’ll be too costly, they won’t get legal aid, if they contest the application, it’ll cost them thousands, or the original application for a three year ban will become a five year ban. Thankfully, this “advice” isn’t always adhered to and fans contact us and are advised – free of charge – on the merit of contesting the application.

It’s a frequent boast by the authorities that FBOs have transformed the behaviour of the English fan both here abroad and played a major part in the more or less complete reduction of ugly scenes that so tarnished the reputation of our supporters. However, there are three notable academics in the field of football policing and legislation (Messrs Pearson, Stott and James) and if you read their work – all freely available online – it paints a somewhat different picture. None of them say that FBOs haven’t played their part but the true picture takes into account many other factors, primarily policing, conditions and the changing demographic of fans. They will also argue that the effectiveness of the banning order has never been properly measured.  

For whatever reason, the narrative of the authorities that banning orders work in preventing ‘hooliganism’ (let alone the draconian implications of serving a ban) is very rarely challenged by the media or even those who champion civil liberties meaning there is little scrutiny in their application. It’s also the case, again as I’ve witnessed, that the judiciary doesn’t always apply the proper tests when considering applications for Football Banning Orders. Thankfully the FSF are able to rely on an excellent legal team who will give initial advice free of charge; we can’t though prevent football fans being subjected to the same reach of the state as terrorists and paedophiles.  

Amanda.jacks@fsf.org.uk / 07703 519555